Asian stocks ended mostly higher on Monday, as weak U.S. jobs data and slowing growth in China's overall exports fueled hopes for new economic stimulus from the U.S. Federal Reserve. All eyes are now on the Fed's Sept. 12-13 policy meeting, with investors betting that Chairman Ben Bernanke would announce fresh stimulus measures, or at least outline potential plans to revive a flagging economy. Bernanke last week said the labor market's stagnation was a "grave concern" increasing expectations of further Fed action to help lower interest rates and boost loan growth.
Shares, however, eked out only modest gains as weaker economic reports from China and Japan increased downside risks to the global economy. Commodities were higher but the euro eased from a four month high against the dollar after the German central bank chief, Jens Weidmann, opposed the ECB's bond buying plan, saying the unlimited purchases of bonds up to three years from European sovereigns violate a taboo on financing state deficits.
Also, Greece once again stirred up worries for investors after Prime Minister Antonis Samaras failed to secure agreement from his coalition partners on a package of spending cuts worth $14 billion.
Japanese shares edged down marginally after the government said the economy grew at a slower pace than earlier estimated for the April-June quarter. GDP grew just 0.2 percent in the second quarter of 2012 compared to the previous three months, the Cabinet Office said in a revised report, suggesting that the recovery from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami remains stuck in neutral. The headline figure was down from last month's preliminary reading of 0.3 percent. The benchmark Nikkei average slipped 2 points or 0.03 percent to 8,869, while the broader Topix index gained 0.3 percent.
The dollar's weakness against the yen and Intel's warning of softer-than-expected chip demand for the third quarter weighed on technology stocks, dragging shares such as Tokyo Electron and Advantest down 3-4 percent.
China-related Komatsu rallied 3.2 percent and Hitachi Construction Machinery rose 2.1 percent on continued expectations for additional public spending by the Chinese government. Brokerage Nomura Holdings advanced 2.9 percent, extending gains for the third straight session, after the company last week unveiled details of a $1 billion restructuring.
China's Shanghai Composite index rose 0.3 percent, led by metal and cement companies, as the government's recently announced plans to speed up infrastructure spending outweighed weak industrial output and trade data. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index ended little changed with a positive bias.
While a weaker-than-expected industrial output growth added pressure on Beijing to announce more stimulus, data released by the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that annual inflation rose to 2 percent from a 30-month low in August, marking its first increase since March. Month-on-month, consumer prices moved up 0.6 percent in the month, the fastest increase since the start of the year.
Separately, the latest figures released by the General Administration of Customs showed that China's exports grew less than expected in August, while imports declined unexpectedly indicating weak private consumption in the economy.
Australian shares ended modestly higher, led by strong gains among resource stocks on fresh stimulus hopes from the Federal Reserve. Both the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 and the broader All Ordinaries index rose about 0.2 percent each. Among major miners, BHP Billiton rose 1.5 percent, Rio Tinto soared 4.4 percent, Fortescue jumped 7.3 percent and gold miner Newcrest rallied 4.5 percent.
Spot iron ore prices delivered to China rose over 2 percent to S89 a ton on Friday after Beijing approved a spate of major investments last week, including 25 new urban rail projects, to bolster growth.
Banks ended mostly lower, with ANZ, Commonwealth and Westpac down between 0.2 percent and 0.4 percent after data showed Australian home-loan approvals unexpectedly fell in July, paving the way for further interest-rate cuts before the end of the year. Building materials maker Boral slid 0.9 percent after the company appointed the head of its U.S. operations as its new chief executive effective October 1. Retailer Woolworths tumbled 3.6 percent on going ex-dividend.
Seoul shares ended modestly lower as investors waited to see if the Federal Reserve would launch another round on quantitative easing following the FOMC's two-day meeting on Thursday. The benchmark Kospi average slipped 0.3 percent. Builders led the gainers, with Hyundai Engineering & Construction and GS Engineering & Construction gaining 2-3 percent after South Korea unveiled a fresh $5.2 billion stimulus package, including tax breaks worth $2 billion, in a bid to boost domestic demand amid the global economic downturn.
New Zealand shares rose modestly, led by Fisher & Paykel Appliances after Chinese shareholder Haier said it is considering a full takeover of the kiwi whiteware manufacturer. Shares of the company soared to a four-year high before paring some gains to end 29 percent higher. The benchmark NZX-50 index rose a modest 0.1 percent. Would-be bank Heartland and rural services firm PGG Wrightson jumped 5-6 percent, while Australian food ingredients maker Goodman Fielder and Property investor Argosy Property fell about 3 percent each.
Elsewhere, India's benchmark Sensex was last rising 0.2 percent, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index rose 0.4 percent and the Taiwan's Weighted average added 0.8 percent, while Malaysia's KLSE Composite slipped 0.2 percent and Singapore's Straits Times edged down 0.1 percent.
U.S. stocks showed a lack of direction on Friday, largely holding on to the substantial gains posted in the previous session, as traders digested a disappointing jobs report and Intel's warning of softer-than-expected demand for the third quarter of 2012. The Dow rose 0.1 percent, the tech-heavy Nasdaq inched up 0.61 points or less than a tenth of a percent and the S&P/500 gained 0.4 percent.
The Labor Department's closely-watched employment report showed that employment increased by less than expected in August, although continued sluggishness in the labor market and a shrinking workforce increased optimism about further monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve at next week's FOMC meeting.
by RTT Staff Writer
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